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(John Ellacott)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lex Davison #4 lights up his Dunlops with Bib Stillwell and David McKay on the front row of the ‘Victorian Trophy’ grid, Calder Raceway on 13 March 1963…

They finished in this order, Lex’ ex-McLaren Cooper T62 the winner from the Stillwell and McKay Brabham BT4 Climaxes. David’s was a ‘little’ 2.5 litre FPF, the other two were toting big ‘Indy’ 2.7 litre engines.

In a season of consistency Stillwell won his second Gold Star, Taswegian John Youl won at Warwick Farm and Mallala, Davo won at Calder, Bathurst and Sandown but only Sandown was a championship round so the Melbourne motor dealer took the second of 4 Gold Stars on the trot, 1962-1965.

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Calder Victorian Trophy grid 1963 from the front, Davo, Stillwell and McKay (John Ellacott)

 

 

 

 

Tale of the Cooper T62 #’CTA/BM/2’…

It’s a sad tale too. This car was successful, winning races in the hands of both Bruce Mclaren for whom it was built and for Lex Davison who raced it next. But for those around the car there was much tragedy, so its an interesting tale if not a happy one. Rocky Tresise died at its wheel, not much has been written about the young Melburnian, Davo’s protégé. The point of the article is largely to right that a little, if you can add more to Rocky’s story I am interested to hear from you to flesh it out further.

Perth hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1962, the Lord Mayor, like so many before and after him globally saw the games as a way of putting his city on the map and expediting the development of much needed infrastructure.

The event was tiny by the standards of Commonwealth and Olympic games today; 35 countries sent 863 athletes to compete in 9 sports but the event was huge in the context of the cities small population of around 500,000 people.

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The games were the first to have an athletes village, till then competitors had been housed in hotels and billeted in private homes. As a fan of Perth’s City Beach I was astounded to learn the area was largely bushland until 65 acres were developed for the village in advance of the games. Now it’s a great place to live beachside and an easy train ride into town.

At the time the Australian Grand Prix didn’t have a permanent home, the event was rotated around the countries six states. This was good and bad.

Good in the sense that spectators/competitors had a chance to see/participate in their home race every few years but bad in the sense that no one circuit owner/promoter could set up ‘infrastructure’ knowing they had one or two big events they could plan their revenues and therefore capital outlays around. This ‘sharing arrangement’ applied until the first F1 AGP in Adelaide in 1985, which became Albert Park when the nasty Victorians ‘nicked the race’ from SA.

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Perth circa 1964 (unattributed)

It made good sense to have the AGP in Perth at the time of the games to get along a decent crowd of locals and overseas visitors.

The ‘Games, held from 22 November-1 December were noted for ‘heat, dust and glory’. The opening ceremony was 105 degrees fahrenheit, (40.5 centigrade) the heat continued throughout the competition. The army were pressed into service ferrying constant supplies of water to parched competitors.

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The 18 November 1962 AGP was held at Caversham, an ex-military airfield circuit in Perth’s Swan Valley, 20 km north-east of the city centre and was also scorching hot.

The circuit hosted two AGP’s in 1962 and 1957, that race was won somewhat controversially by Lex Davison’s Ferrari 500/625, co-driven by Bill Patterson, again in scorching heat. To this day many pundits believe the race was won by Stan Jones Maser 250F who took the chequered flag but subsequently the win was given to his great friend and Melbourne rival after ‘lap countbacks’ and protests

In order to secure some world class competitors Brabham and McLaren were paid to attend, both brought  cars intended to compete in the Antipodean summer internationals which traditionally commenced in New Zealand early in the new year.

The Brabham BT4 and Cooper T62 were variants of the respective marques 1962 F1 cars, the BT3 and T60, both powered in that application by the Coventry Climax 1.5 litre FWMV V8.

For ‘Tasman’ use, actually Formula Libre at the time, both cars were fitted with 2.7 litre Coventry Climax FPF 4 cylinder engines, CC’s 2.5 litre very successful 1959/60 World Championship winning engine taken out to 2.7 litres. These ‘Indy’ engines were originally developed for Jack’s first Cooper mounted Indianapolis appearance in the Memorial Day classic.

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Brabham and Stillwell take to the Caversham track, AGP weekend 1962. Brabham BT4 and Cooper T53 (Terry Walker)

‘The History of The Australian Grand Prix’ relevant chapter was written by Graham Howard. He records that Jack and Bruce started the race very evenly matched; Jack ‘popped’ his 2.7 Climax in practice, Bruce lent him his 2.5 spare, indicative of the great friendship between two guys who were also fierce competitors particularly on ‘their home turf’ during the annual Tasman races.

For McLaren’s part, Bruce had his Cooper handling beautifully having tested the car at Goodwood prior to his trip but then John Cooper grabbed the springs fitted to it for Monza F1 use leaving Bruce with a skittish, twitchier chassis than was his optimum.

So, Bruce had a bit more ‘puff’ than Jack, the alcohol fuelled 2.7 FPF giving around 260bhp to Jack’s 230 but Jack had the sweeter handling car, the scene was set for a fascinating contest.

Whilst the entry was ‘skinny’ the race promised to be a close one and so it was.

Other entries included the Coopers of Davison T53, John Youl T55, Bib Stillwell T53 and Bill Patterson, the latter somewhat hamstrung by driving an older T51.

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Stillwells Cooper T53 cruising the Caversham paddock (oldracephotos.com)

Local enthusiasts who raced were Syd Negus’ Cooper T23 Holden, E Edwards TS Spl and Jeff Dunkerton’s Lotus 7.

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Small field shown in this start shot, fortunately the torrid duel between Brabham and McLaren made up for the paucity of competitors. Brabham then dark green Coopers, Patterson’s white one, Davo’s red Cooper and similar colored BRM P48 Olds of Arnold Glass, then the front engined Cooper T23 Holden of Negus, green TS Spl of Ted Edwards and finally the green Lotus Super 7 of Jeff Dunkerton, the last sports car to start an AGP. Note the State Governor’s Roller in the foreground (Lyn Morgan/Terry Walker)

The race only had 10 starters, Perth is a long way from the east coast where most of the Gold Star contenders were based. The balance of the field was made up of WA competitors. Indicative of the change in the nature of AGP fields is that this race was the last for a front engined car (the appearance of the Ferguson in 1963 excepted), the last for an air-cooled and Holden engined cars.

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Brabham’s brand new BT4 Climax at Caversham, this car the first of many very successful ‘Intercontinental’ Brabhams; the Coventry Climax powered BT4/7A/11A won a lot of races in Australasia (Milton McCutcheon)

Even though the field was small the race settled into an absorbing battle between McLaren and Brabham at the front. The thrust and parry continued for over 40 laps, the gap varying between 2 and 8 seconds as attack and counter-attack was staged.

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Lex with a big smile for the cameras! Cooper T53 Climax 2.7 ‘Lowline’ . The T53 was the works only ’60 GP car and sold to customers for ’61 (oldracephotos.com)

The race went on with Jack unable to get past Bruce but opportunity arose when Bruce ran wide lapping Arnold Glass for the second time.

Jack focused on Bruce, Glass took his line for the next corner, he and Brabhamcollided, the latter racing an ex-Scarab aluminium Buick V8 powered BRM P48. Arnold finished but JB was out on lap 50 leaving Bruce to take a popular win.

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McLaren takes the plaudits of the crowd on his victory lap, Caversham 1962 (Terry Walker)

Youl was 2nd after an interesting battle with Stillwell 3rd, 4 seconds behind, Patterson 4th, then Glass in the BRM and Negus the first of the locals in the Cooper T23 Holden.

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McLaren takes the plaudits of the crowd and the Governor, McLaren manager/journalist Eoin Young is the ‘blood nut’ in glasses behind the governor (Terry Walker)

With that Bruce and Jack returned to Europe for the finish of the season and then returned in January to race the cars in the annual Australasian summer series of races.

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Bruce McLaren shows racer/journo/team owner David McKay his new T62 toy, McKay could not race having damaged his ex-McLaren Cooper T55, famously demolishing a marshalls ‘dunny’ after an off into Warwick Farm’s infield. Front wishbone suspension, Alford & Alder uprights, big oil reservoir for the CC FPF and aluminium side fuel tanks all clear (Peter Longley/Terry Walker)

Cooper T62 Climax…

The Cooper was conventional for its day the T60 F1 chassis was laid out by Owen Maddocks after discussion with Bruce and John Cooper.

The T62 was built on the T60 jig by Tommy Atkins team at his Chessington ‘shop, Harry Pearce and Wally Willmott did the work. The rear frame was designed to take a P56 BRM 1.5 litre V8, the plan was for Bruce to drive it in non-championship F1 races Cooper themselves were not interested to contest.

When the engine was late, Atkins shelved the project and instead modified its frame to accept a 2.7 litre ‘Indy’ Coventry Climax FPF engine and Colotti T32 5 speed transaxle for ‘Tasman’ use.

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Bruce and David again, rear frame detail and big 58DCO Weber fed 2.7 litre CC FPF engine, circa 260bhp on alcohol (Terry Walker)

Suspension was upper and lower wishbones and coil spring/shocks at the front and rear. There were adjustable roll bars front and rear, rack and pinion steering and disc brakes all round clamped by Girling BR/AR calipers front/rear. Wheel diameter was 15 inches.

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#10 McLaren Cooper T62, Tony Maggs Lola Mk4 and Davison Cooper T53 on the ’63 Longford grid preliminary race (Ellis French)

McLaren raced the car that summer in the Antipodean Internationals taking Kiwi wins at Wigram and Teretonga in January and then Sandown and Longford in Oz. He was 3rd at Warwick Farm and retired at Pukekohe, Levin and Lakeside. Bruce then sold the car, which had won 5 of its 9 starts to Lex and headed back to Europe.

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1963 AGP at Warwick Farm 10 February 1963; #2 Surtees Lola Mk4a 2nd #5 David McKay Brabham BT4 4th #10 McLaren Cooper T62 3rd, Brabham won the race in his BT4 (Howard)

1963 Internationals and Gold Star…

As stated in the first paragraphs of this article, Bib Stillwell won the second of his four Gold Stars with consistent performances in his Brabham BT4 all year. Lex showed plenty of speed in the T62 winning the Victorian Trophy at Calder and Bathurst 100 but neither were Gold Star rounds that year. Sandown was another T62 win, a hometown one and a championship round in September.

Jack Brabham won the AGP at Warwick Farm, the race held on 10 February whilst the ‘Tasman’ drivers were in the country, a pattern which continued for years, making the race much harder, and prized, to win by locals. Bruce was 3rd in the T62 with John Surtees 2nd in his Lola Mk4A.

McLaren won, as stated in the T62 at Longford and Sandown before selling the car to Lex and John Youl took two great wins in his Geoff Smedley fettled Cooper T55 at Mallala and Warwick Farm, the final 2 races of the Gold Star championship.

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Davison with ‘Bathurst 100’ victory laurels 15 April 1963, the Cooper T62 looks superb, his cars always beautifully presented and prepared by Alan Ashton and the rest of the crew (John Ellacott)

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Lex T62 ahead of Stillwell’s Brabham BT4 during the Victorian Trophy, Calder 11 April 1963 (‘stan patterson’)

Lex had 1963 Gold Star speed if not reliability. In the ’64 Tasman Series, he contested  the Sandown, Warwick Farm and Longford rounds for DNF/8th/6th  in the T62.

Bruce returned to the Antipodes with a 2 car team in 1964, the so-called ‘first McLarens’ were Cooper T70’s designed by Bruce, albeit built in the Cooper ‘shop. Bruce took 3 wins, Brabham 3 as well in his new BT7A but greater consistency gave Bruce the title.

Denny Hulme was Jack’s teammate in the Brabham BT4 Jack used the previous year, the car Davison would later purchase at the series conclusion.Tim Mayer showed great speed and promise in the other T70 but sadly lost his life in an accident at Longford.

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oopsie! Lex having a moment in the T62 at Sandowns turn 1 or Shell Corner, in front is Frank Matich  and behind Jack Brabham both in Brabham BT7A Climaxes. AGP which Brabham won, 9 February 1964, the other two both DNF (Howard)

Lex joined the ‘circus’ for his home race, the AGP at Sandown on 9 February but was out with piston failure in the T62 on lap 29, Jack won the race.

Davo was 8th and 2nd local home behind Stillwell at Warwick Farm, Brabham again taking the win.

He didn’t contest the ‘Lakeside 99’ in Queensland but was 6th a little closer to home at Longford in early March, this time Graham Hill won in a Brabham, David McKay’s Scuderia Veloce BT4.

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Longford ‘South Pacific Trophy’ grid 2 March 1964; #2 Brabham BT7A, Hill in the red winning BT4 and Matich in the pale BT7A, then Stillwell on row 2 in the dark BT4 with Lex alongside in the red T62 and the rest (Geoff Smedley)

Lex started the ’64 Gold Star series in the Cooper but soon ‘got with the strength’ and bought one of Ron Tauranac’s ‘Intercontinental’ Brabhams, the marque pretty much had a strangle-hold on the domestic competition from this point for the next few years. From 1963-68 to be precise.

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Cooper T62 (right) and new Brabham BT4 with Davison team engineer Alan Ashton’s Ford Mainline ute towcar. ‘The BT4 was JB’s works car then Denny Hulme’s winning the AGP and Tasman Champs then to Davo and later John McCormack’s first ANF1 car. This is the BT4’s first run at Calder by Davison still in factory colors, after this meeting ’twas painted red (Terry Walker/Denis Lupton)

Stillwell again won the Gold Star, his well developed and beautifully prepared Brabham BT4, the national championship now run to the Tasman 2.5 litre formula.

He was more than quick enough to take the title with a win at Lakeside and strong placings elsewhere including an excellent 2nd to Brabham at Sandown in the AGP contested by the internationals on 4 February.

Lex won at Mallala in his new Brabham BT4 with Rocky Tresise finishing third at Warwick Farm in Lex’ Cooper T62, the nearly 1 hour race great preparation for the internationals Tresise was to contest that summer. The quicker 2.5’s of Matich and Stillwell didn’t finish the race but Rocky finished in front of Lex who was 4th. Leo Geoghegan and Greg Cusack were 1st and 2nd in Ford/Lotus 1.5 powered Lotus 32 and Elfin FJ respectively

Rocky Tresise…

Davo raced the Brabham from the 13 September Lakeside round giving Rocky Tresise, an up-and-comer and neighbour some races in the now second-string T62 during 1964.

Rocky’s first exposure to motor racing was as a 15 year old Melbourne Grammar schoolboy attending a Fishermans Bend meeting in 1958 with a mate whose family knew David McKay. The Scuderia Veloce chief was racing his Aston DB3S at the meeting.

Tresise was hooked ‘the noise, the smell and the excitement really got me in and from then on I bought every motor magazine I could get to try to learn more about motor racing’ he said in an AMS article about him in June 1964.

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Rocky Tresise in 1964 aged 21 (AMS)

Rocky worked as a ‘servo’ pump attendant and on a farm in his school holidays to get together sufficient money to buy a car when he turned 18, his MGA contested 52 races at Sandown and Calder in 1962 having started in sprints and hillclimbs.

In 1961 the Davisons moved to Clendon Road, Toorak, one of the best streets in Melbourne, the Tresise family were the neighbours.

Chris Davison, Lex’ son and a racer himself recalls; ‘We grew up at Killara Park, the farm at Lilydale my grandfather established, dad used to commute into Collingwood each day where the shoe factory was. (Paragon Shoes) As we got older and needed to be closer to Burke Hall (Xavier Junior School) in Kew dad bought a house at 81 Clendon Road, Toorak just over the road from St Johns Toorak’.

‘Rocky had obviously heard via the grapevine we were moving in and on the very first night, the first night as we sat down to dinner there was a helluva racket, an engine being blipped and revved next door. Dad said ‘what the hell is that?’ and went next door to investigate, so they literally met the first night we moved into Clendon Road! Rocky’s furious blipping and revving of the engine was to let dad know there was a racer next door’

‘Rocky was a terrific bloke, i was 13/14 and liked him a lot. I often travelled with he and his girlfriend Robyn Atherton between race meetings. Rocky’s dad died some years back and Lex quickly became someone Rocky looked up to. A bit of a father figure and as time went on dad spoke of Rocky as his protege. Dad was famous for his Dame Nellie Melba (Australian opera singer) like retirements and comebacks but he knew his time to retire wasn’t too far off. The one of these i remember most was during one of the Albert Park meetings when we had Stirling Moss staying with us, we spent the whole weekend on a boat in the middle of Albert Park Lake so dad wouldn’t be tempted to get involved!’.

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Tresise scoots thru The Esses in the Triumph 2000 Mk1 he shared with Lex at Bathurst in 1964 (autopics)

Rocky, having gained useful experience, but not winning any races in his stock car, realised he would not be competitive without extensive and expensive modifications to the MGA.

RT had met Jack Hunnam racing a Morris 850 in the same team during the 1962 Armstrong 500 at Phillip Island, Hunnam sold Rocky his Lotus 18 Ford FJ, Hunnam was moving up to an Elfin.

The MG was sold, his road car an A Model Ford, his goal of an open-wheeler the important next step was a choice made with Davo’s advice. Rocky’s first race in the car was at Calder in January 1963, he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory touching wheels with another and having it aviate over the top of his Lotus.

In another race a rear suspension failure resulted in a spin, these mechanical problems were typical of his 1963 but he worked hard at night at Hunnams to better prepare the car whilst Lex assisted with advice on race craft, lines and so on. His first success, a 3rd in the 1963 Australian FJ championship. Tim Schenken later bought the Lotus which was an important part of his ascension.

After that success Rocky managed 4 wins and a 2nd from 5 starts in FJ events. By this stage he was working fulltime as a hardware salesman for the family business. Chris Davison did some research and identified WP Tresise & Co Pty. Ltd. with outlets in Flinders Lane, Melbourne and Lower Malvern Road, East Malvern as the family company.

On April 9 1964 Tresise (real name Rodney) was given the ultimate 21st birthday present when Lex gave him an Ecurie Australie pocket emblem as a welcome to the team, he was to drive the Cooper T62 at the 19 April Victorian Trophy Sandown meeting.

‘Dad wasn’t an easy bloke, he was a stickler and a tough disciplinarian so he would have had Rocky under a tight rein and insisting on him doing as he was asked. The famous occasion was when Rocky ran off at the bottom of Conrod at Bathurst during the 500 and arrived back at the pits…’what about getting the car son!’ was dads response!’

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During lunchtime on the Friday before the April Victorian Trophy meeting Lex drove the circuit with Rocky in his DB4 Aston. They stopped at various points to discuss lines, gear change and braking points and then played ‘follow the leader’, Lex in the Brabham, Rocky the Cooper.

Tresise got his times down to mid 14’s, the lap record then was Brabham/McLaren’s 1:8.1. Tresise  ‘I thought I’d be frightened of the car, but I wasn’t. Even when it’s sitting still you know it’s tremendously fast, everything is so functional but the biggest thing about it is it’s fantastic acceleration’ he quipped.

Spencer Martin was having his second start in the Scuderia Veloce Brabham Climax both of the young drivers performed well albeit Rocky fluffed a gear off the grid causing engine failure later in the race.

In the 15 lap feature he was last into Shell Corner, having botched a change but got his times down to the mid 12’s, up to 5th by lap 4 and on lap 10 3rd behind Stillwell and Lex after Frank Matich retired from the lead. On lap 13 the engine popped but 1:12.3 was good after only half an hour behind the wheel of what was one of the fastest single-seaters on the planet at the time. These 2.7 litre FPF Climax engined cars were quicker than the 1.5 litre F1’s of the day.

Lex Davison had this to say of Tresise in his AMS column; ‘…he has had over 60 starts. This is more than Bib Stillwell, Bill Patterson, Doug Whiteford, Stan Jones or myself had in our first 10 years of racing. His driving has improved gradually and after the usual errors of youth, over-confidence and inexperience he has developed a businesslike and earnest approach to driving racing cars’.

During 1964 Davison and Tresise shared a Triumph 2000 in the Bathurst 500 finishing 8th in class D, the race was won by the Bob Jane/Harry Firth Ford Cortina Mk1 GT.

In November 1964 Tresise borrowed Ian Kaufman’s ex-works Frank Matich driven Elfin for the Victorian 1500cc Championship, the final of five rounds of the Lucas/Davison Trophy Series. Rocky was 4th outright and won the 1100cc class in the race taking out the 1100cc championship, the car prepared by Lou Russo ‘in such good shape that some of the 1500cc cars couldn’t get near it’, the Australian Motor Sports race report said.

Hunnam won the series from Leo Geoghegan’s Lotus 27, Tresise was 5th in the pitscore and Lex presented Geoghegan and Rocky their trophies. Interestingly AMS records Alan Jones racing Stan’s Cooper T51 Climax in a special handicap race ‘Alan handled the big car well to come 2nd’ to Bib Stillwell’s Cooper Monaco Buick.

Ecurie Australie December 1964

Ecurie Australie in the Warwick Farm paddock during the Hordern Trophy weekend, December 1964. L>R Jon Davo, Lou Russo, Lex, Alan Ashton, Rocky, Peter Davo and Warwick Cumming, Brabham BT4 left and Cooper T62 right (Chris Davison Collection)

As stated earlier Tresise contested the ‘Hordern Trophy’ at Warwick Farm over the weekend of 5/6 December 1964.

Rocky finished third in the Cooper T62, the nearly 1 hour race great preparation for the internationals Tresise was to contest that summer. The quicker 2.5’s of Matich and Stillwell didn’t finish the race but Rocky finished in front of Lex who was 4th. Leo Geoghegan and Greg Cusack were 1st and 2nd in Ford/Lotus 1.5 powered Lotus 32 and Elfin FJ respectively.

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Rocky in the T62 at Warwick Farm during the ‘Hordern Trophy’ 1964 (Bruce Wells)

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He may not have been the youngest driver in the field but Davo could still make a car dance; here left on the front row in Brabham BT4 alongside Clark’s Lotus 32B and Hills Brabham BT11A, NZGP Pukekohe 1965 (Jack Brabham with Doug Nye)

1965 Tasman Series…

The ’65 Tasman was won convincingly by Jim Clark’s Lotus 32B Climax, who started his amazing 1965 season with a bang. That year he won the Tasman, Indy and his second F1 World Championship.

Lex raced his Brabham BT4 in the season opening NZ GP at Pukekohe starting off the front row and proving their was very much still ‘life in the old dog’ starting alongside Hill and Clark and ahead of all the rest including Brabham, Gardner, McLaren, Phil Hill and others. It was an amazing performance which deserved better than a DNF with overheating on lap 33.

He chose not to race the remaining Kiwi rounds, shipping the car back to Oz, direct to Sydney where Ecurie Australie, Lex in BT4 and Rocky in T62 contested the ‘Warwick Farm 100’ on 14 February.

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Rocky has the Cooper T62 on tippy-toes as he finesses the big,powerful car around the technically challenging ‘Farm circuit 14 February 1965 (Bruce Wells)

Clark won the race, Rocky was 9th, 3 laps behind Clark with Lex withdrawing on lap 3 with a broken steering wheel, not the first time that had happened to him! Rocky’s was a good performance, he was behind the 1.5’s of Roly Levis and Leo Geoghegan but he still lacked miles in the car.

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Tresise ahead of Bib Stillwell during the Tasman ‘Warwick Farm 100’, Cooper T62 and Brabham BT11A, Bib first resident local home in 4th 14 Feb 1965 (Bruce Wells)

Racing in this company and finishing was a fillip to his confidence. It was only his third meeting in the car. The top 6 were Clark, Brabham, Matich, Stillwell, Hill G and Jim Palmer, drivers of vast experience and calibre…

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Lex in the Brabham BT4 at Warwick Farm during his last race, a broken steering wheel the cause. Thats the Ecurie Australie badge to the right of the mirror. He died at Sandown 6 days later (Bruce Wells)

Sandown Tasman Meeting, 20 February 1965…

The teams then pointed their trucks south down the Hume Highway, from Sydneys western outskirts horse racing venue to Melbournes eastern outskirts horse racing facility, Sandown Park.

During that tragic weekend Lex Davison died when his Brabham left the circuit on a Saturday practice session in an undemanding part of the track, the gentle right hand kink on the back straight, he went over a culvert and hit the horse racing perimeter fence coming to rest some distance further on in the circuit infield.

Chris Davison, a racer himself; ‘Dad had done a few ‘Nellie Melba’s’, retired and come back. He’d had some warnings about his heart from the doctor. What is probable is that something happened to his heart, maybe not an attack as such but he may have momentarily blacked out, the car following him, Glynn Scott, said the car turned inexplicably left and we lost him as a consequence of the collision itself. Days later his badly damaged helmet was delivered home to Clendon Road by a couple of policemen, I’m still not sure where it is now after all these years’.

I don’t propose to go into this further, the salient facts above are sufficient.

The result was that one of Australian motor racings greatest, a titan since the 1940’s was lost.

Rocky’s Cooper was of course, withdrawn from the meeting.

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Chris Davison; ‘I really like this photo with all the Davo clan and a young Rocky. Taken at the Vic Trophy Race at Calder in 1963. That’s me wearing Dad’s cap and Richard with Rocky at the back wheel’ Cooper T62 (autopics)

The impact of Davison’s death cannot be overstated in Melbourne at the time…

Lex was a four time AGP and the inaugural Gold Star title winner, a well known sportsman in a city obsessed with sport. He was a successful, respected businessman, Paragon Shoes, the business his father started was an employer of a large number of people. A good looking athletic bloke, his wife Diana was an attractive woman so they cut a fine figure as a couple in Melbourne at a time it was small. It was big, very sad news for the broader populace let alone the Davison family and extended network.

Enthusiasts of a particular age remember what they were doing when they heard the news on 20 February 1965, it was one of ‘those’ events in ones lifetime.

Aussie GP driver Tim Schenken, a Melburnian provided a personal perspective in a MotorSport interview ‘…in 1964 Rocky Tresise was selling his Lotus 18 because he was joining Lex Davison’s team. I borrowed the money from my dad to get it. Now I was in a proper racing car started attracting a bit of attention at Calder, Winton, Tarrawingee and Sandown…’

‘Then out of the blue Lex Davison called. He was a major figure of course and a real hero of mine. He told me he was going to retire and Rocky Tresise was going to take over his big single-seaters. He’d watched me in the Lotus 18 and wanted to put me in his Elfin. (Lex had paid a deposit on a new Elfin 100 ‘Mono’ 1.5 Ford) It was unbelievable for me’. Barely a week after Lex’ conversation with Tim, Lex died at Sandown and then Rocky the weekend after that at Longford.

‘Because of Lex’s status in Australia, there were hundreds of people at his funeral in Melbourne’s St Patricks Cathedral including Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren. I’d never been to a funeral before and it was dreadful. On the coffin was a chequered flag his helmet and gloves. I didn’t know anyone, I just hung around on the edge of it, very muddled about it all’.

‘It was terrible, Lex and Rocky dying on consecutive weekends. It just stunned everybody. The thing was the weekend after Rocky’s crash I was due to run for the first time under the Ecurie Australie banner at Calder in my Lotus 18. The newspapers got hold of it and were speculating about whether it would be three fatal crashes in 3 weekends. I went to see Diana Davison and she pleaded with me not to race at Calder. I was under a lot of pressure not to drive; I felt I couldn’t talk to my parents about it but all I wanted to do was to go racing. I was a very confused boy’, Tim raced the Lotus at Calder entered in his own name, the transmission broke on the startline.

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Frank Matich, left and Rocky at Warwick Farm during the Hordern Trophy meeting in December 1964 (autopics)

Australian Grand Prix, Longford 1 March 1965…

Chris Davison ‘Longford was usually one of ‘my’ races as a kid so i knew the place well. A few days after dads funeral which was huge, it was like a State funeral so many people attended, the city was brought to a standstill, i was still numb just trying as a kid to absorb what had happened. It was like looking outside watching people going about their daily lives and wondering why they didn’t see what you are going through, that things weren’t the same at all’.

‘Rocky and dads team; Alan Ashton, Lou Russo and Warwick Cumming came to the house to see the family and find out if they should race the car the following weekend at Longford. To go or not to go was the call we had to make. Over all these years when this question comes up i ask people what you would do, what would you have decided was the right thing? Most say ‘race on in Lex’s honor’ which is of course what we decided’.

And so the scene was set. Ecurie Australie crossed Bass Straight on the overnight ‘Princess of Tasmania’ voyage. After berthing in Devonport the team took the short drive to Longford, a picturesque village 25km from Launceston, Tasmania’s ‘northern capital’ in the Apple Isles northern midlands.

The race was always held on a long weekend and was well supported by non-motor racing type Taswegians as a major sporting event on their calendar, over 30000 attended the ’65 event.

This 1964 documentary footage captures the essence of the place and its inherent dangers in a modestly powered sedan, let alone a GP car, click here to see and enjoy it;

Overseas visitors to Oz doing a ‘motor racing tour’ should include Longford amongst your ‘must visit’ circuits. Other circuits/ex-circuits whilst itinerary planning are Phillip Island and Albert Park in Victoria, Mount Panorama at Bathurst NSW, and the Lobethal and Nuriootpa road courses in SA’s Barossa Valley. Lobethal is amazing. Checkout the Adelaide GP street circuit whilst you are in town of course.

longford rocky

Middle of the grid before the ‘Examiner Trophy’ preliminary race. Stillwell #6 Brabham BT11A, Matich BT7A and Frank Gardner in the yellow Mildren BT11A with Rocky in the red Cooper T62 in the row behind (Stephen Dalton)

Rocky hadn’t raced on the demanding, dangerous, fast, over 100mph average speed and technical road circuit before. Lex wasn’t there to guide him. Its intriguing to know who looked after him in terms of getting his head around the circuit and his approach to it that weekend with all of the tragedy of the week before at the forefront of his mind. He was a very brave young fella of great character to race.

He practiced and started the preliminary race ‘The Examiner Road Racing Championship’ without incident. Bruce won from Jack and Graham Hill, Rocky was 10th.

He had misgivings about contesting the main race ‘The South Pacific Trophy’ on the Monday though.

‘Racing Car News’ and ‘History of The Australian GP’ journalist Ray Bell recalled on The Nostalgia Forum in 2015 ‘Rocky did have some serious misgivings about driving in the race. He’d been talking to (Tasmanian racer) Lynn Archer earlier in the day. Lynn told him if he didn’t feel like driving he should tell the team and pack the car away, but it was his decision and nobody else could make it for him’.

coop tres

The Ecurie Australie Cooper T62 is pushed onto the grid for its last fateful race in Rocky’s hands 1 March 1965 (oldracephotos.com)

long

Start of the AGP Longford 1965. Graham Hill BT11A on the right gets away well with Brabham BT11A in the middle and winner McLaren Cooper T79 at left. #8 is Clark’s Lotus 32B, #7 Gardner’s Brabham BT11A, #11 is Phil Hills Cooper T70, #3 Matich BT7A and Stillwell alongside Frank in the dark BT11A, Tresise in #12 T62 is to Bibs left with Bob Jane in the light colored Elfin Mono Ford 1.5 beside and behind Rocky #15 is Jack Hobden’s Cooper T51 and #9 Bill Patterson’s light coloured Cooper T51 (Howard)

In terms of the Grand Prix itself, Bell summarised it thus; ‘ It was a stinking hot day, we saw the greatest race I ever saw. A contest that had four World Champions (Phil and Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Jim Clark) and a multi-times second placegetter (not to mention Tasman Champion, Bruce McLaren) at each others throats for the whole distance…Phil Hill had his last open-wheeler race, it was more than that to him. It was the best race he ever drove in his opinion and when I reflect on what I saw that day it certainly was a great drive’.

longford map

The road narrows beyond Mountford Corner as the cars pass the end of the pits which is where the accident ocurred. You can see from the start shot above how wide the circuit is in that start/finish/pits area of the track

Rocky‘…had trouble all weekend getting first gear out of Mountford. The first time he got it right (that is selected and used 1st gear from the tight corner) was at the end of that first lap, then he came boiling out of the hairpin passing 1.5 cars one after the other. Tragically that’s why he ran out of room (where the circuit narrows). I’d met Robin d’ Abrera just a few weeks earlier, he was with Peter Bakalor whom I’d known for a year or two. He was really enjoying being with the other photographers and following this important series for Autosport.’

‘So for Anthony Davison, the family representative that day, a young man, (17)  after running across to the crash site and learning of Rocky’s death, he had that to deal with before, an hour or so later, having to present the new trophy named in his fathers honour to Bruce McLaren’ the race winner in his Cooper T79. Jack was next, 3 seconds behind in his BT11A and Phil Hill a further second back in Bruce’ Cooper T70.

longford bruce

Bruce McLaren won the tragic ’65 AGP in a great drive, Cooper T79 Climax. Two motorcyclists also perished at Longford that weekend, an incredibly black one for the sport (Howard)

The Davison family ordeal was far from over though, Bell; ‘The night of the race Anthony, Peter and Jon (Davison) flew back to Essendon Airport, Melbourne and went straight to the Tresise home. There Rocky’s older brother and sister were waiting to hear what happened to their brother. The older brother asked Jon (a decade later a leading F5000 racer) ‘He kept his foot down when he should have backed off’ said Jon. It was that simple. The road has narrowed as he ranged alongside Glynn Scott (Lotus 27 Ford 1.5), with two wheels in the dirt the car lost traction, skewed sideways and started the crazy flight that took the lives of Rocky and Robin d’Abrera’.

Chris Davison; ‘I didnt go to Tasmania that year in all the circumstances of course but i can still recall arriving home from rowing practice on the Monday evening (of the South Pacific Trophy in which Tresise died) and a friend of the family giving me the news about Rocky’s accident. I was devastated, the team, dad, Rocky dead. It was just too much for a kid to absorb, tragic on so many levels. Rocky had two other brothers, one was an army officer, David, Ian the other brother was at the races decades later when David Purley raced here in the LEC sponsored Lola T330 F5000, he had some sort of connection with that company. Rocky was special, he was kind and generous to me, gave me space that was sometimes hard to get with my older brothers dominating the space’.

As to the future of the Tresise family little is known, Chris; ‘Rocky’s mother was Val Tresise, she married some years after Rocky was killed…a man from Western Victoria, or Penola in South Australia, i think his name was Arch de Garris. Rocky’s fiancé was Robyn Atherton and sadly I have no idea what happened to Robyn after Rocky was killed. I guess I was too young to really understand what was happening in those difficult years after both Lex and Rocky were killed, and by the time I was 17, I just wanted to get on with my own life, so I went bush as a jackaroo at Hay and lost contact with many people. The person who was all knowledgeable on these matters was my mother and sadly she has taken all this knowledge with her’.

Anything i say at this point would be trite or superfluous. I am very thankful to Chris for discussing and sharing his recollections of this quite extraordinary fortnight in the lives of the Davison and  Tresise families.

The remains of the Ecurie Australie Brabham and Cooper were advertised and bought by Victorian racer Wally Mitchell who used some of the components to build the ‘RM1 Climax’ sportscar. Mitchell crashed the car at Symmons Plains on 12 March 1967 suffering burns which claimed him, he died on 18 April, to make the story even more macabre.

Prior to his demise historian Stephen Dalton advises his uncle, John Dalton had done a deal with Mitchell to acquire the T62 bits, these components passed to John after delicate discussions with his distraught widow.

Dalton; ‘I remember it under my uncles house at Olinda during the September school holidays of 1978, I was earning some money tidying things up to put more MG stuff under there! I was 13 and didn’t know the sad history of the car at the time’.

‘The car remained a crumpled wreck until the mid to late eighties when a new chassis was built by Charlie Singleton, the car was displayed in chassis form at one of Paul Sabine’s Classic Car Shows in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Things went pear shaped financially and John sold it in the early 1990’s. By the time it was displayed Roger James had ownership and perhaps Richard Bendell was involved. I think Gary Dubois built the body for it’.

The car was sold to the ‘States in the early 1990’s and has been sold a couple of times since when I saw it at Sandown Historics in 2014, but I’m not sure who owns it’, but it seems the car is now owned by an American enthusiast.

bruce

Bruce McLaren winning the 1962 AGP at Caversham in the Cooper T62 Climax (oldracephotos.com)

The Cursed Car?…

Its a fact that a whole swag of people closely associated with the Cooper T62 died before their time, not just the obvious four; McLaren, Davison, Tresise and Wally Mitchell. Later owners or part owners John Dalton and Roger James died early, so too Paul Higgins a respected Melbourne journalist ‘attached’ to the Davison team who was murdered along with his wife in gruesome circumstances twenty years ago.

The above are facts not the stuff of a fictional thriller. For those of us a little superstitious the reality is that some cars shouldn’t be rebuilt, but buried. Perhaps this is one such car…

Etcetera…

coop fac

Cooper T62 upon completion at an early Goodwood test in late 1962 prior to shipment to Fremantle, WA (Mike Lawrence)

coop mallala

Alan Ashton aboard Lex’ T62 at Mallala, Gold Star round 14 October 1963. Behind is Stillwell’s Cooper Monaco and Pat Hawthorn’s Aston Martin DBR4, blue #16 is Mel McEwin’s Elfin FJ Ford. John Youl won this race in a Cooper T55 (Kevin Drage)

cav ad

Credits and Bibliography…

Chris Davison who was very generous with his time and insights into a very difficult part of his life as a young teenager

‘History of The AGP’ by Graham Howard and Ors in particular the 1962 and 1965 chapters written by Howard and Des White

‘The Nostalgia Forum’ threads in relation to Lex and Rocky in particular the contributions/insights of Ray Bell and Stephen Dalton

‘Australian Motor Sports’ June 1964 issue, the Melbourne ‘Age’ newspaper 20 February 1965

‘MotorSport’ interview with Tim Schenken

Stephen Dalton Collection, Chris Davison Collection John Ellacott, Terry Walker, oldracephotos.com, Milton McCutcheon, Peter Longley, Ellis French, Geoff Smedley, Ron Lambert Collection, Denis Lupton, Geoff Smedley, autopics.com.au, Murray Lord

Tailpiece: Davo in the best of company: Graham Hills Brabham BT4, Davisons Cooper T62 and the white nose of Jim Palmer’s Cooper T53 Climax, Longford 1964

coop lex

(Ron Lambert Collection)

Comments
  1. Murray Lord says:

    According to Fast Track Back by Barry Green, Rocky finished tenth in the Examiner race.

    • markbisset says:

      Much appreciated Murray, can I trouble you for the first three as well?, will pop the results into the article, thanks again. I’ve got Barry’s Albert Park book, I like his stuff, must get that one, mark

      • Murray Lord says:

        Sure thing. A win for Bruce McLaren by less than a second from Jack Brabham, Graham Hill third. Then Matich, Stillwell, Gardner, Clark, P. Hill, Jack McDonald and Tresize.

      • markbisset says:

        Thanks Murray, have updated the article and credited you, Stephen Dalton has fixed another couple of errors…getting there! Mark

  2. Mark, Wally Mitchell is not Tasmanian as far as I know. He ran East Burwood Motors, a wrecking yeard at the time and now the Ambulance Station on Burwood hwy, just past K Mart Burwood (suburb of Melbourne for out of towners). There’s a Wally Mitchell thread on TNF with information from family members, if you haven’t already found it.

    Rocky’s (real name Rodney) brothers names are David and Ian as far as I’m aware.

    Also, despite his passing at Sandown, Lex was still listed as an entry in the Longford programmes (one for each day). It was likely they had already been printed or at least prepared before Sandown in an era that took more effort to change, than the digital age we now live.

    Stephen

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Stephen, I assumed he was a Taswegian, will correct the article. I know the spot you mean as to wreckers yard location, RM1 specifications was a tangent too far for the article, but would be interesting to know! Mark

  3. Rob says:

    A sad tale, tastefully told.

    I see that the AMS report on the 1963 Australian Formula Junior Championship has Jack Hunnam rather than Rocky Tresise in 3rd place and Rocky is not actually on the entry list in the Official Programme, Have Jack and Rocky been confused here perhaps?

    Rob

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Rob, a sad tale indeed. Will check back to the references I used, not that I doubt you! Have you any articles about Rocky which ‘add to the picture’ by any chance? Mark

  4. Rob says:

    Sorry Mark, but I don’t believe I have anything on Rocky that would add to your article. I remember that Rocky’s story was covered in some detail in “Larger Than Life”, the book on Lex Davison by Graham Howard, which I have read but don’t have. Rob

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Rob, I do have the book but it’s in storage in Dandenong, no use to me at all! Hopefully a family member or friend will come upon the article and fill in some more of his short life details. A sad but interesting topic to research I found, m

  5. Tony Stott says:

    Sadly, I do not have the photos now, but I was invited to Sandown Park by Paul Higgins to capture photos of Rocky getting his birthday present (which was of course a private drive in the car to go with that cloth badge!).It was a new experience for me to be able to take photos from anywhere I wanted to, and I remember the feeling of trepidation standing right on the edge of the bitumen while Rocky flashed past!

    • markbisset says:

      A special day indeed Tony!
      I must admit having written about Tim Mayer more recently what a waste of two young lives it was 12 months apart; and how different things may have been had they been just a bit more circumspect in their first visits to Longford, an unforgiving place. Still they were racers, a breed apart !
      Mark

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